How do you improve your focus?
This is something I used to have problems with when I was a younger.
There was always something else more interesting. Or, something that distracted me from what I was currently doing.
You’ve probably experienced something like that as well.
Below, you’ll learn the reasons why you may find it hard to focus.
And, more importantly, things you can do to increase your focus and concentration.
Why Can’t You Focus?
Focus is being able to concentrate your energy and attention to one thing. That could be a person, object of event.
What’s more important is what isn’t in most definitions.
That’s the tuning out of all other things and distractions around you in order to focus your interests into that one thing.
As such, you’re it’s not only choosing that one thing. But also saying no to all the others.
…At least for the current moment.
So, at it’s very core, not being able to focus may be because:
- You have a hard time channeling all your attention just on one thing
- Or, you have a hard time turning off your attention towards everything else
Signs You Have a Hard Time Focusing on Things
So what can you feel or experience if you have a problem focusing? Here are some signs you want to watch out for.
- Easily getting distracted by others things
- You find it hard to think clearly
- Difficulty in making decisions
- You can’t seem to sit still
- You’re always forgetting where you last left something or where things are
- You often find yourself making simple or careless mistakes
Reasons Why You Can’t Focus
Above, I discussed how not being able to focus can stem from the difficulty of placing all your attention to one thing or shutting out other things.
So why does this happen?
There are a few reasons. Some of which are within yourself. And others are due to external forces.
Thus, when you find yourself having difficulty focusing, it may be a good idea to go through this short list to see if any of them are causing your lack of focus.
Tired/Fatigued or Lack of Sleep
I don’t know about you, but when I’m tired or short on sleep my mind isn’t what it normally is.
It’s often a step or two slower, more careless and foggier.
Basically, it just isn’t as sharp as it normally is.
You probably feel the same way as well. Why?
That’s because rest is crucial for our brains. Sleep or even napping helps consolidate memories and flush out toxins. The latter lets your brain “detox”. That’s why you often wake up with a “clearer” head.
Stress is another thing that can make you lose focus.
Do you remember the last time you were stressed out by something?
It could have been because of your student loans, an argument with a loved one or something that was placing pressure on you to perform.
How did you feel then? And, were you distracted by it while doing other things?
Probably so. That’s because stress makes us keep thinking about something else. Often, causing us to worry about it throughout the day.
When this happens, you’ll find it hard to focus on everything else you’re doing.
Your brain and body need fuel. That fuel comes from the food you eat.
This is why when you’re hungry, it can become hard to concentrate on what you’re doing.
Hunger may not be too much of an issue when you’re doing simple, more menial tasks. But when you need to think, you’ll soon discover that it’s hard to focus on what you need to do.
Anxiety is closely related to stress. In fact, stress can trigger anxiety. But, it isn’t the only thing that does.
The problem with anxiety is that it affects your focus and concentration.
For example, anxiety from fear of failure or the overwhelming task you need to take on can cause you to put it off for later. As a result, you may find yourself procrastinating.
You’re Doing Too Many Things at Once (Multitasking)
This is probably the #1 cause of lack of focus when you’re actually paying attention to what you’re doing.
If you noticed, the other items on the list are more related to disinterest or something happening that causes you to be unable to focus.
Here, you’re focused on doing things. But, not focused on doing ONE THING.
By splitting your attention to two or more things at the same time, you reduce your ability to focus on doing anything well.
It’s like you’re distracting yourself from your main task by doing other tasks simultaneously.
The problem with multitasking is that your brain is designed to work best when you ONLY do 1 thing at time. It’s performance quickly drops when you add other tasks into the mix.
Lack of Interest
You’ve probably experienced this in school. Remember the last time you had to take classes you had no interest in whatsoever?
Did you listen much in the class?
What were doing instead?
I remember looking at my cellphone, doodling and even talking to my seatmates during classes that I wasn’t interested in. Pretty much anything to pass the time.
That’s what happens you don’t care much for what’s being discussed or happening at the moment.
Boredom makes you more interested in anything else that what you’re currently doing.
This can be listening to a lecture you don’t care about, sitting in your car in the middle of traffic or when you’re at home doing nothing.
When this happens you become easily distracted.
Speaking of distractions, they’re another cause of lack of focus. This time, the problem isn’t from within, but without.
It’s the allure of things around you that make you lose concentration.
They’re more fun, entertaining or interesting to you.
Just imagine working on your project or writing a blog post.
All of a sudden, the trailer for the movie you’ve been waiting for comes on the TV. What do you do?
In all likelihood, you stop what you’re doing and watch the next minute or two.
Well, you just got distracted.
And thanks to the internet, all sorts of distractions are available 24/7. It can be your Facebook feed, news alerts, friends asking to chat, YouTube videos or a new email arriving in your inbox.
Sometimes you can’t focus because you can’t decide.
That’s because, often, you’ll need to decide on one thing over another before you can focus on that choice.
Take for example, you finally got a date with your longtime crush. What do you wear?
You want everything to be perfect, you’re not sure which clothes are better.
So, you’re stuck between them. And because you’re stuck, you can focus on fixing yourself, deciding on what shoes to wear, or what to pair with your clothes.
All because you haven’t been able to decide which clothes you want to wear.
Ways to Improve Focus and Concentration
If you’re experiencing concentration issues or just want to improve your ability to focus, here are some things you can do to improve.
This section is divided into 2 parts,
- Exercises you can do to improve your focus and concentration
- Lifestyle changes that will help boost your ability to focus.
Exercises to Boost Concentration
These are things you can active do to enhance your focus and concentration.
Basically, they are ways that allow you to train your brain to be able to pay better attention to what’s in front of you.
Practice (Your Brain)
Your brain is just like your muscles. You either use it or lose it.
This is why it’s important to keep yourself busy as you get older. And, why studies have shown that people who keep their brains active are less likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
So how do you train your brain? Do:
- Crossword puzzles
- Word search games
- Completing jigsaw puzzles
- Practice math problems
- Do word problems
Basically things that make you concentrate on it and think. Often, this involves trying solve or find something.
They work because doing them makes you focus on that one thing and block out distractions.
Pro Tip: One thing I’ve found that works really well is to find something you actually enjoy doing. This makes you stick to it. That is, you’ll likely be more consistent with practicing it.
Here’s a quick quiz.
Are you better at memorizing things now or when you were in school?
Odds are you (ant I) were much better memorizing longer pieces of text or pretty much anything else when we were still studying.
Because our teachers and professors made us do it regularly. As a result, willingly or not, we were made to practice memorizing things.
And that made us much better.
The one thing about committing things to memory is that you need to focus, A LOT. Only when you truly concentrate will you be able to memorize things, right?
So, indirectly, you get better at focusing by practicing memorization.
Read Things Thoroughly
This is something you probably don’t do as much as you used to. I know I don’t.
Thanks to the internet and mobile devices, I tend to skim quite a bit more than I did before I got used to them. You probably do to.
Skimming isn’t bad. It lets you quickly sort through a long article or text to see if there’s anything there you ought to read.
This lets you get through more information.
But, when doing so, you don’t really focus. At times, you may even find yourself mindlessly scrolling through things because of habit (much like channel surfing with your TV remote).
This reinforces lack of focus. That’s because by doing it so often, you keep practicing not focusing on it.
So, every once in a while, read things thoroughly. This forces you to focus on that text for a few minutes.
As you get better, start reading longer articles or books even.
You’ve probably heard of how meditation helps you calm down and relax, especially during stressful times.
But, a hidden benefit of regular meditation is that it improves focus and attention span.
That’s because when you meditate you concentrate on one thing, like breathing.
Doing so for 15 or 30 minutes daily lets you practice your mind’s ability to do so. And in the process, block out other distractions.
Just try it!
Hop on YouTube and search for a quick 5 minute guided meditation. In all likelihood, the “voice” will calmly tell you to focus on one thing and block out all distractions.
In doing so, you practice focus.
Mindfulness is often associated with meditation. That’s because mindful meditation is one of the most popular forms that’s practiced.
But, mindfulness is completely different from meditating.
- Meditating is sitting down in a quiet space, calming your mind and focusing on your breath (or something else).
- Mindfulness is the practice of concentrating on the present. More specifically, what you’re currently doing. It could be eating, taking a bath or driving a car.
Mindfulness has become more important nowadays because our minds tend to drift away when we’re doing more basic tasks.
Think about it…
What were you thinking of this morning when driving or commuting to work? It probably wasn’t the drive or the commute.
Similarly, what were you thinking of while eating breakfast? Was it your schedule, the workday, a deadline or trying to organize the entire day in your head?
On the other hand, being mindful would have meant chewing slowly, savoring every bite and enjoying the aroma of your coffee.
Because you’re always busy and there’s always something else to to do, it’s easy to let your mind think about other things besides what you’re currently doing.
Play Video Games
Remember the last time you played your favorite video game.
In all likelihood, you were “zoned out”. That is, you were so focused on the game you ignored everything around it.
You didn’t care that the door bell was ringing or that people were talking and shouting around you.
That’s because video games are known to increase your visual selective attention. That is’ you concentrate on what you’re looking at and doing at that moment so much you don’t care about what’s happening around you.
Because of this video games help improve your ability to focus. Plus, you get better hand-eye coordination, faster reaction time and are able to observe different things happening at the same time.
Lifestyle Changes to Enhance Concentration
These changes allow your body and mind to operate at their optimum levels. In doing so, they make it easier to focus on things, especially during important or stressful times.
Get More Sleep
Lack of sleep affects your mind just as much as it does your body. You probably already know this from experience.
It’s harder to think straight, pay attention for long periods of time and remember things when you’re sleep deprived.
Just as importantly, not getting enough sleep increases your risk of accidents and overall performance.
What can you do?
Get 7-8 hours of sleep every night. On weeks that do don’t, try to make up it by sleeping in on weekends. This helps negate some of its effects.
Working out may not directly exercise your brain. But, it indirectly makes it function better.
Studies show that regular exercise helps your brain block out distractions. Although researchers aren’t sure how or why this works.
That said, adding 30 minutes of physical activity to your daily regimen not only boosts your ability to focus but also helps you lose weight and stay healthy.
Enjoy Regular Naps
In addition to night-time sleep, regular naps can help as well. Research shows that regular naps help boost your cognitive function.
Upon waking up, you’ll feel:
- Improve alertness
- Be less prone to making mistakes
- Enhance performance
- Boost concentration and focus
- Increase accuracy
- Renewed energy
Interesting, the study also notes how the length of your nap effects stays on.
- Short naps of 5-15 minutes produce boosts that last between 1-3 hours after waking up
- Longer naps of 30 minutes or more allow you to maintain the improved mental performance for many hours after waking up
Take Breaks in Between Work Periods
It may sound counter productive. But, taking short breaks away from whatever you’re working on helps you maintain focus.
You can take a short walk, enjoy a healthy snack or get some sun for a new minutes.
Doing so allows your mind to get “step out” for a little while. In doing so, it is able to pay attention to other things.
When you come back to your desk, you’ll feel more energized and focus.
This “distraction” seems to help as it allows your mind to “reboot” itself. Similarly, it also works the problems in the “background” connecting little bits of information.
These things allow you to come back to work with a fresh perspective.
It’s also the reason why you often remember where you misplaced things when you’re stop trying to find them.
Get Rid of Distractions
Keeping things that can distract you from your work helps you focus.
For me, that’s my smartphone, the internet and TV. At least most of time.
You probably have different things that distract you as well.
That said, distractions aren’t limited to things. They can be your kids, pets and friends. Similarly, you may find some things distracting.
For example, when you’re trying to work while someone nearby is playing loud music. Or, the construction workers next door are operating noisy heavy equipment.
So how do you deal with them?
- Start by knowing the things that distract you
- Find ways to get away from them or mitigate them. For example, finding a quiet space where nobody can disturb you. Or, going to a co-working space instead of working at home.
Just Focus on One Thing at Any Given Moment
In short, stop multitasking.
On the surface, multitasking may seem like it’s more productive. But, it doesn’t work in practice.
That’s because it takes time for your brain to adjust to the “new” task you’re switching to. This means you lose a lot of valuable time by switching back and forth between different tasks.
In doing so, you end up working less on each of the specific tasks.
Bottom line, you work better when you focus on one thing at a time. This allows you to place your entire focus on that job. Once you’re done, move on to the next task.
Listen to Music
Music works for some people but doesn’t for others. So, you’ll have to test this out for yourself.
But, in many cases, music can help you concentrate better.
That said, it’s important to choose the right type of music.
- Soft, classical music works best
- Nature sounds and ambient noises do well too
- White noise is another option
- Keep the music in the background
- Avoid music that will make you focus on it more than your work. For example, singing along with the lyrics makes you lose focus.
Eat Foods That Improve Memory And Concentration
Diet plays an important part in health, both your mind and body.
What’s interesting is that certain foods can help boost focus and concentration. That’s because they contain vitamins or minerals that help your mind in certain ways.
In most cases, they work in the long-term. That is, you’re not going to feel like Popeye right after he eats his spinach.
Instead, having these foods in your diet on a regular basis helps improve your mind’s ability to concentrate.
As such, you want to include these foods on your weekly meals.
- Leafy green vegetables like Spinach
- Omega-3 rich fish / fatty fish)
- Flax seeds
- Dark Chocolate (70% cacao or higher)
Also, you want to avoid getting dehydrated.
Dehydration has been shown to affect concentration. In contrast, being well hydrated allows you to think clearly.
Drink Coffee or Tea
Both coffee and tea help boost concentration because they contain caffeine.
As such, their effects are temporary. But, they work really well.
This is why people who are tired or working all-nighters consume a lot of coffee. It not only helps them stay up, it also allows them to focus on what they’re doing.
In case you were wondering, caffeine is also one of the ingredients in energy drinks. That’s why it’s effective in boosting your energy and alertness.
Focus and concentration are two important things you need to work productively.
Yet, they can be difficult to achieve.
The good news is that there’s often a few simple reasons why you may find it hard to pay attention to something.
By knowing what makes it hard for your to stay focused, you’ll be able to improve your ability to concentrate for prolonged periods time.
The list above includes things you can do to fix this, mainly by:
- Training yourself to improve focus
- Making lifestyle changes that will enhance your ability to concentrate
What do you do to help you focus better?